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Home arrow Business & Finance arrow Building a business of politics the rise of political consulting and the transformation of American democracy

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the success of campaigns, inc. in California pointed to the financial and political promise of consulting. Exploiting a mix of frequent ballot initiatives, a politically engaged business sector, and a widely dispersed population, Whitaker and Baxter perfected a model of issue-focused, media-savvy campaigns. By the late 1950s, in fact, a number of other full-time firms had set up shop in California, seeking to emulate Whitaker and Baxter’s success. Although California provided a conducive environment for the business of politics to take shape, practitioners still had to convince their clients of their worth. Hard work and salesmanship were required at every step.

This hard work is especially evident when we look beyond California to the gradual professionalization of political campaigns across the country. As careful observers noted at the time, paid experts were beginning to play a greater role in elections during the 1950s and 1960s. However, professional involvement varied in different states and regions, at different levels of government, and in some respects even between the two main political parties. In addition, multiple sources of expertise were active in the political marketplace. Alongside a few specialized consulting firms like Campaigns, Inc., commercial public relations and advertising firms also frequently took on political clients.

This variation illustrates how the control of political work remained up for grabs in the 1950s and 1960s. Although political and technological changes combined to create new commercial opportunities for those skilled in the practical work of campaigns, it remained unclear exactly who should provide these services and how. In the case of television, for example, national advertising firms initially took the lead in adapting the medium to the needs of the candidate. As they did with commercial clients, ad agencies secured contracts with presidential campaigns to produce and place political advertisements on television. However, the growing prominence of commercial firms in presidential politics sparked criticism, renewing concerns about a mass public that could be easily misled. Candidates were eager to avoid appearing too close to Madison Avenue, while the advertising industry itself began to question the commercial value of political campaigns. Ill-suited to the partisan nature of political work, commercial advertising firms eventually turned away from campaigns altogether, setting the stage for the growth of the political consulting industry in the 1970s and 1980s.

 
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